The twin issues of spectrum need and management not only are on the front burner of every U.S. broadband provider, they also resonate loudly on Capitol Hill. Earlier this week, the House Subcommittee on Communications and Technology questioned Lawrence Strickling, assistant secretary/Communications and Information at the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) regarding federal-government spectrum use and how some of that bandwidth could either be auctioned or reallocated.
Committee chair Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) began by stating, “Today’s hearing addresses one of the hardest pieces of the spectrum puzzle: how to more efficiently use government spectrum and free additional resources to meet consumers’ growing wireless broadband needs. This is not a new challenge for the NTIA, the nation’s federal government spectrum coordinator.”
While lauding NTIA for its ongoing spectrum work, particularly when it comes to the 1755 MHz-1780 MHz band (often cited as a “natural pairing” for the 2155 MHz-2180 MHz spectrum in the AWS-3 band), the congressman pointed out that reallocation of that spectrum piece (a highly desirable goal) “is by no means the magic bullet to solving the spectrum challenges this country faces.”
He continued, “The FCC’s National Broadband Plan and the Administration have both set ambitious goals for making 500 megahertz of additional spectrum available for commercial services. The NTIA has the extremely difficult task of maximizing government spectrum efficiency, sharing, and use to do its part in meeting this goal.”
In part of his response, Strickling noted his agency continues its evaluation of the 1755 MHz-1850 MHz band to determine if any of it can be reallocated for commercial service. That task, which will include comparisons with other possible candidate bands, could be concluded as early as Sept. 30.
“NTIA chose this spectrum based on several key considerations, including: (1) the technical characteristics of this spectrum band that make it especially well-suited for mobile broadband communications; (2) the nature of current federal agency use of the spectrum; (3) the likelihood of successfully repurposing operations located in the band within 10 years; (4) the international harmonization with mobile operations; and (5) the existence of mature wireless technologies to support federal operations in other bands,” he explained.
But NTIA cannot solve the spectrum problem alone, he noted. In a message from the president, Strickling said Congress needed to take the following measures:
- Adopt proposals to improve the process for reassigning spectrum encumbered by federal users to private use,
- Grant authority for the FCC to hold incentive auctions,
- Create governance structures and channel auction proceeds to manage the deployment and operation of a nationwide interoperable public safety broadband network, and
- Spur innovation in wireless services by both providing for unlicensed access to wireless spectrum and funding critical research and development.
“Importantly, it is critical that any spectrum-reallocation legislation be feasible to implement and consistent with ongoing interagency work to find the most efficient and effective uses of our national spectrum resources,” Strickling said. “In particular, statutory requirements to reallocate specific bands must incorporate sufficient flexibility to permit the Administration to conduct appropriate feasibility assessments and develop repurposing options that best meet the goals of promoting economic growth and allowing Federal agencies to continue critical missions.”
He concluded, “Legislation that accomplishes the goals of improving spectrum management, providing a modern communications for the nation’s first responders, while at the same time providing for considerable deficit reduction, is a compelling policy opportunity we must pursue to win the future and live within our means.”
– Debra Baker